2012 (Or The Year We Finally Took Music Back)

This guest post is by Wesley Verhoeve (@wesleyverhoeve); he is an artist manager, producer, curator, and the founder of Family Records.  image from www.webwombat.com.au

Man, I remember what the music industry was like in 2010. It was still recovering from 1-2 punch of the Great Fraud of the 1990?s and the Digital Disaster of the 2000?s, but some light was already visible at the end of the tunnel. I’m so glad to see how we’ve evolved as a business. Just a few examples of my interactions with music in the last week or so:

Radio – As I make my way through the city I’m listening to HOT97, on my phone, and Funkmaster Flex plays the new Capone ‘N Noreaga single. I love it. He mentions I can order their new album through HOT97?s (mobile) website or via txt for $4.99, and it comes with two exclusive bonus tracks of Capone ‘N Noreage’s interview with Angie Martinez and a great 6 minute on-air freestyle they did with Peter Rosenberg. I txt CNNWar3 to HOT97 and 5 minutes later the album has downloaded to my Apple Music Locker^ in the cloud. HOT97 receives a referral fee for the sale. I switch from HOT97 to iTunes on my phone and start playing the album from the cloud. Once I get to my apartment I switch to iTunes on my computer and continue playing it while using Not.es*, a start-up app purchased by Apple and integrated into iTunes, to nerd out and read the liner notes, lyrics and credits. Not.es also lists the samples used, and I can purchase the original songs that are being sampled right there with one click. I buy a Bobby Farin track that is listed as a sample for $0.49, and Capone ‘N Noreaga receive a referral fee.

Live Concerts & Merchandise – Last week I went to a Radiohead concert, I got my ticket through TrueTix*, the new ticketing company started by Coran Capshaw that lists tickets at their actual price, including fees, and doesn’t charge you extra if you want to print it yourself. It’s one of my favorite concerts ever and so I text the code they displayed over the merch booth, 20120618 (today’s date), to RHLIVE and I know that when I get up the next day I will automatically get a great recording of the concert, delivered into my Music Locker for $2.99, via the new artist-controlled Amazon service DLVRY*. One of my friends forgot his phone and he puts in the order at the merch booth instead. Another friend already decided in advance he wanted a recording so he was able to tack it to his ticket purchase for a discounted additional $1.99. The recording comes with 5 guest passes, which I’ll send to my friends who couldn’t make it so they can at least hear the magic.

I also bought a limited edition tour T-shirt for $30 , which came with an automatic download of a tour only EP of demos the band recorded on the road. If they end up recording an additional demo later on in the tour, it will automatically download to my Music Locker and notify me. It’s awesome.

Indie Labels – Since I’m a huge fan of Bloomington label Secretly Canadian I make sure to check out their blog and site regularly, often prompted by their monthly e-mail list that I signed up for. I gave them permission to market to me, because their artist selection, album curation and batting average are so strong. I even purchased a subscription which allows me to get 5 of their releases per year for a one time up-front fee of $20. I see there’s a new Antony & The Johnsons record available and I immediately download it, leaving 2 more records in my subscription for the rest of the year. It’s only June, so I decide to tack on a 3 record extension for $12. Since I’ve linked them up with my Music Locker through my Facebook Connect the music automatically finds it’s way there. Indie labels function as valuable, identifiable brands that develop and properly identify artists, where as Major Labels function as service providers with financial clout.

Major Labels – After EMI went bankrupt, and had to sell their publishing to Sony and their masters to Universal, the majors finally set into motion what they knew was their future all along. They acknowledged their strengths (radio and promotion clout, capital, infrastructure) and their weaknesses (knowing their customers, artist development, long-term thinking), and restructured themselves more along the lines of Venture Capital firms with additional services. Jack Johnson is still with Universal, through his own label Brushfire, but now owns his own masters and has Universal handle distribution and certain forms of promotion picked off of an a la carte menu of services he can choose to use in exchange for additional points of profit split. He chose distribution (20%), radio promotion (5%), online promotion (5%) and music placement (10%), and splits the profit on the album so that 60% goes to himself and Brushfire, while Universal receives 40% (20+5+5+10).

Direct-To-Customer – Ever since Bob Dylan broke with Columbia Records and went direct-to-fan I’ve been enjoying the EP’s and singles he releases whenever inspiration strikes. His Topspin-powered web store lets me download AIFF quality recordings from Bob’s home studio, which let me hear all the little intricacies like Bob’s dog barking in the background, and a coffee mug being put down. Bob’s also been releasing his catalog in Director Cut versions, with commentary between songs, and since there are 58 albums he decided to release them as a monthly subscription service.

I hop over to the Sigur Ros website, which just put their new Anton Corbijn concert movie/documentary on sale. I debate between getting the $1 version that lets me stream it directly to my TV via my Boxee, the $2.99 digital download, or the $20 DVD version with picture book. I decide on the DVD, which actually comes with a free unlimited streaming version so I can watch it tonight with my roommate and some friends.

Offline Music Retail – Ever since Best Buy, Wal Mart and all the other companies not actually invested in the music business decided to stop selling music things have gotten much better. Slowly new style music retailers have started opening their doors in college towns and cities, offering a great music related experience. Vinyl, music related books, digital delivery to your Music Locker, a Mud coffee shop with comfortable chairs on one side, headsets that let you sample any release in the store, cool vintage and new apparel in the Urban Outfitters corner, sometimes even a comic book section, in-store performances, music film screenings at night, and more. Sometimes I go there to spend an hour or two on a day off and I love it, but mostly it’s younger kids with more free time that find themselves earlier in their music discovery journey.

Press – I feel like reading some sarcastic and slightly pompous reviews that often contain a good kernel of truth so I go over to Pitchfork. They reviewed the Best Of Wavves box set, which they laud for it’s innovative and versatile sampling of the singer’s Primavera Sound Festival melt down in 7 of the 10 new remixes. My roommate just received a new payment from his trust fund and there seems to be no more appropriate way to spend it so I get him to order the box set through Insound, via Pitchfork’s referral link. The digital version immediately downloads to his Music Locker, which he then plays over our sound system, and the physical version arrives a week later. Pitchfork has since posted a revisionist review, in which they pan the band, and my roommate was swayed, so I get to keep the box set. I guess not everything has changed.

This story is purely fictional, and set in 2012, when I hope we have figured out to make our industry healthy, artist-driven and customer-focused. When we take advantage of technology and change, rather than fight it, and where we monetize the awesome.

^ Apple will have to enter the cloud based music business at some point. I made up the name Apple Music Locker though.

* Fictional company, with a service and name I made up for the purpose of this article, but boy I hope they will exist in the future.

This post originally appeared on Wesley's great industry blog.

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